Playmixt= playlist+mix tape


On the inadequacy of the word “shoegaze” as a genre descriptor

In preparation for tonight’s SWERVEDRIVER show here in DC, I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is to describe their music to friends. The default explanation is “they got lumped in with the shoegazers and were on Creation records in the early ’90s, but really evolved from there… ” and then I sort of trail off. Not really helpful.

The term “shoegazer” is assumed to have evolved from the practice of staring down at one’s guitar pedals while using them to create a wall of distortion and noise with one’s instruments. The problem is that the term itself is a bit twee and quaint…and doesn’t sufficiently detail the rush and the sheer pummeling of the waves of sound that wash over you from such music. In concert or otherwise.

Calling such powerful music "shoegaze" is as twee as calling it "pedalpusher." Think about that word - gazing at one’s shoes has nothing to do with the music. My Bloody Valentine refers to the climax of their show as the “holocaust" - that should give you an idea of the force of the sound about to hit you. A far more forceful word is needed for this genre… if it even is a genre.

I’ve liked a lot of bands that have been linked to this description, only to find that the word is simply inadequate. In her book Manic Pop Thrill, Rachel Felder used the word miasma to describe such bands… but that word is a little too close to melisma, which is that ear-splitting trilling up and down the scales that female pop singers tend to do these days.

This I guess goes back to the old saying about writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Sometimes the words we use to describe genres of music aren’t as well thought-out as they could be. I don’t have a good alternative word in mind, though… and let’s not even stare down the loaded barrel of the word “alternative” being used to describe music.